by Kate Morrison
Scripture: Proverbs 8:22-30
This year our advent devotional theme is My Soul Magnifies the Lord. As I was reading through Proverbs 8, the passage listed above, trying to find something to write about for our devotional, I was struck by the fact that often my soul magnifies the Lord after something great has happened in my life. Perhaps God has answered a prayer of mine in a big way. Perhaps God just helped me make it through another week of my seminary classes (and actually understanding the material). Far too often, thinking about God and specifically magnifying God in anyway comes as an afterthought to all of the other things going on in my life.
In our Proverbs 8 passage, we read of a person who, in many academic circles, is referred to as “Woman Wisdom.” She has been with God from the beginning, walking hand in hand with God and rejoicing with God all of the time. Oh how I wish I could be more like Woman Wisdom. How I wish I could remember to always rejoice and give praise to God for all of the wonderful things God has done in my life. For just as Woman Wisdom was created by God so very long ago, I truly believe that from the beginning, God has delighted in God’s handiwork, especially in humankind.
So this Advent, as we are welcoming and excited to celebrate the birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, let us remember to delight in the Lord. Let us remember to give thanks to God for being with us from the beginning of time. Let our souls truly come to magnify and worship the Lord.
Prayer: Dear God, we worship and give you all praise on this wonderful day. Thank you for being with us and loving us since the beginning of time. You are truly awesome and great, and we love you. Amen.
by Giselle Lawn
Scripture: Psalm 19
Psalm 19 reveals to us the God of Creation. Through creation we see God as the mighty one, the God of knowledge and power, the God whose magnificent works are not just omnipresent around us but daily, directly, impacting our very lives. I see the beauty and majesty of Creation in the abundant diversification of life from the tiniest of insects on earth to the coral we find in the shallows of our oceans. Regardless of where I travel on the earth, I experience the power and majesty of Creation in the very gravity that holds me firmly and securely but also through our sun from which I experience light, warmth, and the order of creation and time.
This psalm also reveals to us God as the Word. In the Word, we see the God of love and grace who we experience in the conviction of our heart, and in the hope we experience in our soul of eternal relationship with God. In the Word I am also reminded that God’s commands give light to my eyes; the statutes of the Lord provide trustworthy direction and order to my life; and the law of the Word endures forever and refreshes my soul. As the passage closes, we see the assurance of our relationship with God in the form of prayer petitioning God to keep me from willful sin and asking forgiveness for those times when I do not even realize I am missing the mark.
This scripture passage comes to a close praising God as Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.
Prayer: God of Creation and Word, I pray I will daily surrender to you as Lord in my life; that as I face choices and challenges each day, I will remember you are my Rock, and I pray that in my life others will see you, my Redeemer. Amen.
by Don Clarke
Scripture: “And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory…” John 1:14a
Out of desperation and in a bout with depression, Grammy-winning songwriter Julie Gold wrote “From A Distance.” The song was recorded by such greats as Nanci Griffith and our beloved Bette Midler. You’ll remember that Bette even recorded a special Christmas version of the song in 2006. According to the lyrics, God looks at creation “from a distance” and sees harmony, hope, peace, and unity. The chorus resounds, “God is watching us, God is watching us, God is watching us, from a distance.”
John the Gospel writer, dubbed as the disciple “whom Jesus loved,” places Jesus at the beginning of creation as one who “was the Word, was with God, and was God.” The Creator of the Universe decides to “dwell with us.” We have a God who chooses to be in our midst, present in the flesh, not sitting down and merely mulling over creation or remaining at a distance. No, God moves toward us, takes on human flesh, and dwells among us! The God of heaven becomes the Savior of the world.
On this most holy day, may we realize in a new way that God came to us with great intention to be present here on planet Earth. It is here that God, full of grace and truth, is seen being born in a stable, walking among us, teaching us, as well as performing signs and wonders before us. Christ’s entire life, and even death, reveals his two natures to us – human yet divine. He is indeed King of Heaven and Servant of All.
Prayer: “O come to my heart, Lord Jesus, There is room in my heart for Thee.” Amen.
by Pam Buzbee
Scripture: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.” (Isaiah 9:2)
Darkness. Recently, I keep seeing this word. It is in one of the Lectionary readings for today. There is a book that is popular now by Barbara Brown Taylor called Learning to Walk in the Dark. We are just past the winter solstice, December 21st, the shortest day in the year, the day with the most darkness.
So what’s with all this darkness? We talk about “dark times in our lives.” People are “afraid of the dark.” There are “dark” movies. We never think of dark as being something “good” or anything that we seek. Even God decided to create light out of darkness. We leave nightlights on when we go to bed-or if not, we have so many electronic lights that our rooms give off a green glow. We’re never really and truly in the dark. We can’t even see the stars well for all of our city lights.
No one knows the actual date of Jesus’ birth. We celebrate it on December 25th, some think to counteract the pagan winter solstice celebrations. But there is a beautiful irony to this date being chosen. Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness.” (John 8:12)
The traditional birthdate for John the Baptist is June 24th, which is right at the summer solstice, the day in the year with the most sunlight. Speaking of Jesus, John said, “He must increase and I must decrease.” (John 3:30). How fitting that John was born at the time when the daylight would begin to decrease and Jesus was born when, every day, there would be more light.
Maybe we need to have darkness in order to appreciate light. Maybe we need to remember that Jesus was coming into the world to give “sight to the blind . . . and bring those who live in darkness out of dungeons.” (Isaiah 42:7). Maybe tonight, Christmas Eve, will be the beginning of more light in your life.
Prayer: Lord, for those of us who walk in darkness, give us light. For those who walk in the light, show us how to guide those who are walking in darkness. Amen.
by Cara Cassell
Scripture: Luke 1: 57-66
Sometimes we do not feel worthy. Sometimes we feel that we should have done more, given more, behaved more thoughtfully. Because we do not feel that we earned these gifts, or because we feel that we cannot repay them, we believe that we should not receive them. We are reluctant recipients.
I can only imagine that Zechariah shared this same feeling of unworthiness. When he first learned that his aged wife Elizabeth was pregnant, he denied the fact and denied anticipatory joy. In consequence, he lost his voice for a time. Elizabeth accepted God’s gift, and she kept her voice to claim, “He is to be called John.” When Zechariah affirmed the baby’s name, he regained his voice.
With that name affirmation, Zechariah said yes–yes to the miracle of a child in old age, yes to bountiful blessings from God, yes to God’s miraculous power. His and Elizabeth’s acceptance made way for the one who prepared the way for Jesus. Elizabeth and Zechariah flouted convention when they chose to name the child without regard for the father’s or other relatives’ names. In separating from convention, they took hold of the hand of God. This hand extended to them, and it extends to you and me without our earning it. Zechariah did not lose his child; he lost his voice until he was able to claim the blessings of God. We, too, must claim our power to say yes, yes, yes to the loving gifts before us.
Prayer: Great and Loving God, in this season of giving, please help us to give. Help us also to receive the gifts you have for us. Help us to receive your love and to respond to that love so that we may be blessed and be a blessing to others. Amen.
by Anne McQuade
Scripture: Titus 2:11-3:8
These pent up feelings have driven me to activity, a real firestorm of activity. I volunteer here, there, everywhere. I help this (previous) work acquaintance prepare her first resume, then I volunteer with a non-profit organization by lending some organizational skills, then I sign up for way too many college courses, all the while juggling complex health and family issues. Meanwhile, I am snapping at family, dear friends AND, of course, rebuking myself for the slightest offense-or nothing at all.
I had never studied the book of Titus until I gathered up my courage and volunteered to write this devotion. The entirety of this passage brought it all home to me! (What an amazing coincidence that this happened to be one of the passages assigned to me. “The Lord moves in mysterious ways!” as my Mom would say.) First, it reminds me of the need to “speak evil of no one, to be peaceable, gentle, showing all humility to all men.” Titus 3:2. Second, the lesson that struck me most, is that perhaps I need to add some prayer and gratitude in with all my frantic activity in order to regain peace in this life and in the next.
Prayer: Father, help me remember to treat others kindly, peaceably, and with humility. Please also remind me to give thanks for the blessings I will enjoy for all eternity, thanks to your grace, Lord. Amen
by Steve Fazenbaker
Scripture: Luke 1:26-38, 46-55
In the book of Romans, Paul wrote that “we do not know how to pray as we ought.” Paul was right! Too often our prayers are governed by our moods and our energy levels. Furthermore, there are many people and situations that would benefit from our prayers, except that we are unaware of their need for our prayers. When we don’t necessarily feel like praying or if we are unsure of what to pray, it is helpful to turn to prayer books. We can often find a prayer that expresses what we are feeling, and pray the words given to us. Of course, the best prayers can be found in the Holy Scriptures. The book of Psalms alone contains 150 prayers – a prayer for any occasion, any mood, any situation.
But if we think of prayer as a conversation with God, or a conversation with Christ, then pretty much any conversation in the Bible can serve as a prayer. In my personal prayer life, I have discovered that Mary’s words to Gabriel in Luke 1:38 is one of the most powerful, meaningful, and life-changing prayers in the Bible: “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Praying this prayer throughout the day helps me to find my place in whatever situation I find myself, and it helps me find the wisdom and courage to do what God would have me do, in whatever situation I find myself.
Prayer: Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word. Amen.
by Mary Abbott Waite
Scripture: “And the King will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.'” (Matthew 25:40)
Today is the day before the longest night of the year. So we find ourselves waiting for the light. We long not to get up in the dark or not to start for school or work in the dark. We long for more light in the late afternoon. Even though nighttime photographs from space show North and South America spangled with the lights from thousands of towns and cities, we long for more daylight. It seems appropriate that one lectionary reading for today is Revelation 6 that tells of the arrival of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse and the Lord’s Day of Wrath–war, pestilence, famine and tyranny do seem to hold sway in the world.
But I didn’t choose that reading. Why? Because we are waiting for the Light. No matter how dark the days, no matter how much power personal pain and sorrow and the trials of the world seem to hold, we are waiting for the Light of Love, as shown in Jesus the Christ. “Love came down at Christmas,” we sing. And in today’s scripture, Jesus tells his followers how to experience life-giving love and its blessings–share it with others. We are all members of Christ’s family and all stand in need. By doing all we can to share the light of love with others, we move from waiting for the Light to living in the Light.
Prayer: Loving God, help us to share the light of your love with others and so let your Love and Light rule in our lives. Amen.
by Anita Turlington
Scripture: Psalm 130
What – at Christmas? Who could possibly be “in the depths” at Christmas? So much to do, so many beautiful decorations, so much color and energy, so much to celebrate…and yet. We all experience moments of sadness during this season of joy when the Christmas spirit deserts us.
Advent is a time of waiting for the wonderful birth, but it is also a time of evaluating, taking stock of where we have been this year, losses we have suffered, ways we have failed. Many of us battle depression during the holidays because we just will not have the “holiday experience” featured in every television commercial, Christmas movie, or song on the radio.
Struggling with our emotions, we might imagine the Psalmist, awake in the middle of the night, haunted by failure, perhaps suffering from the kinds of losses we experience. Crying out to God, the psalmist offers up confidence in God’s love: “there is forgiveness in you.” Waiting for the sun to emerge from the night’s darkness, the psalmist cries out “For with the Lord there is steadfast love.” We cling to that steadfast love, to God’s mercy and understanding in our own depths and darkness.
Prayer: God of mercy, I offer thanks for your unchanging love, which gives me comfort and strength when the darkness threatens to overcome me, even during this time of joy and celebration. Amen.
by Mike Smith
Scripture: Psalm 62:7
Refugees are everywhere in the news today-from Central American children seeking refuge in the US to Syrians seeking refuge in Turkey. Hundreds of thousands of people have sought refuge in recent days. When they arrive at their destinations, they have nothing to eat or drink, nowhere to sleep or to be out of the sun and the rain, no money, and no jobs. So why do they come? Because, they are seeking refuge-a place where they are safe from danger or trouble, perhaps a place that could provide a better life, a sanctuary, a sanctum–a holy place.
So many people are seeking refuge today, a place of safety and protection from the dangers of the world-drugs, depression, the lure of money and power, homelessness, loneliness, hopelessness, financial insecurity, loss, death of a loved one, etc. Where can we find a safe and holy place where we can be safe, a harbor until the storm passes by?
The psalmist reminds us that our refuge is in God. We shouldn’t turn to God ONLY in time of trouble of course, but in troubled and dangerous times, God is our strength. Oh, that I would remember that! When we seek God in prayer, when we listen for God’s voice in music or the voice of a friend or in just being quiet and still, when we share ourselves with God’s people, we can find protection, comfort, and peace. Then, though “the mountains shake in the depths of the sea, though the oceans roar and foam, we will not fear.”
Thanks be to God for His unspeakable gifts. He is our refuge and strength!
Prayer: God, Help us to seek refuge in you, especially in times of trouble. Amen.